30-Day Film Challenge: Your Favorite Foreign Language Film

Day 26
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Rashomon (1950) by El Bicho

This might be the unfairest category of the challenge because I love a great many foreign films and directors that I would like to draw attention to, but I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, so here goes.

To come up with an answer, I focused on who was my favorite director in this category. Akira Kurosawa slightly edged out Ingmar Bergman. Then I had to narrow it down to just one title, which was again difficult because if there is any director with a surplus of outstanding films, it's Kurosawa: Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low, Ran, and the list goes on. Yet, Rashomon might my favorite. It has a fascinating, thought-provoking story presented with exquisite cinematogrpahy.  And how fitting an answer in a challenge where three men and a woman are offering different responses to the same question.

A woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) and a priest tell another man about a trial they testified at where a bandit (Toshiro Mifune) is charged with killing a samurai (Masayuki Mori) and raping his wife (Machiko Kyo). However, each person tells a different version of the events. The audience sees them all play out and is left wondering what is the truth and what is truth.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) by Amanda Salazar

I do love a great foreign language film, but it saddens me that it is even in another category because I personally don't really separate foreign language films from others but I digress.

Most recently, one of my favorite "foreign language" films would have to be Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth.  A young girl is sent to live with her pregnant mother and stepfather who is a cruel captain in the Spanish army. Fascinated by fairytales, the young girl meets a faun that takes her to the middle of a labyrinth and must have her complete different tasks to prove her worth as a princess.

Del Toro does a beautiful job at combining fantasy and reality through the eyes of a young girl. The plot weaves itself carefully and sometimes violently through the story of her family and the tasks that she must do that way heavily in her reality. This is a perfect example of a film that is produced in another county that carries a different focus, one on the young girl and the delicate fantasy that she lives in.

Kes (1969) by Dusty Somers

I'm not too crazy about the designation of "foreign film" as a genre, as if all movies not in English can be lumped into one convenient category. Should my favorite film, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, count also as my favorite foreign film? Logically, yes, but that would probably be cheating, so I'll opt for another film.

Just to mess with the system a little, I'll pick Kes, which is in English, but populated with enough heavy Yorkshire accents that it sometimes might as well be in a different language. Ken Loach's naturalistic tale of a downtrodden boy who finds some respite in his relationship with a kestrel that he trains is life affirming, yet heartbreaking. Don't expect a cheery boy and his pet fable.

Featuring a cast of mostly non-professionals, the film is led by David Bradley, who turns in one of the least self-conscious leading performances I've ever seen as Billy. Loach has a knack for creating realistic working class textures, and he's probably never shown that more than in Kes.

Cinema Paradiso (1988) by Shawn Bourdo

This is the category where I was really going to show off my freak flag. Wave it high and proud and pick something like Battleship Potemkin and talk about how influential it is to all the movies that came after it. Or there's the existentialist look at our life in The Seventh Seal. But while I really enjoy those - they aren't necessarily my favorites. And it does say "foreign" language film so I'm leaving out films that are from the UK or films I've really only seen in a dubbed format. The next most obvious choice would be Seven Samurai. But that almost transcends the Foreign Language category - it belongs more in the "favorite film" category. That's a stupid reason not to include it here but in my head it makes sense to pick something that best exemplifies the uniqueness of the foreign film compared to the American movie.

So it comes down to three equally qualified contenders. First out of the running is Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue, White, and Red films. As a whole - there isn't a foreign film in the past 30 years that can equal it for artistic vision and message. But I can't separate out one from the bunch. Red is the culmination but it doesn't carry the same weight taken solely on its own. The other that comes to mind is always 1972's Aguirre, Wrath Of God. That trip up the Amazon predates Apocalypse Now by a number of years and might even top it with the Heart Of Darkness metaphors. But the one that shows why I love movies and why I love foreign films so much is 1988's Cinema Paradiso.

This nostalgic film combines everything I love in a movie. It looks back at youth and our star's childhood with wonder and sentimentality. The scenes of the childhood each reflect the man that he will become. The story unfolds slowly and carefully. It's about Salvatore returning home to the place where he grew up to attend the funeral of the man who gave him his love of film. His passion for lost love and for the movies are perfectly intertwined. Most of the film takes place in the flashbacks to his youth. As we move forward through his childhood - it's easy to get lost and forget this is all backstory. That's magic when a film can do that - like Wizard of Oz or It's A Wonderful Life - the viewer forgets that there's another world or that what they're watching is a backstory. The Morricone score perfectly sets the mood - leading right up to the finale. The ending will remind us all of the magic of film and why we are sitting here reading my words about movies or why I'm bothering to sit up late writing about them. It's a link to our childhood - it's the memories they create - it's sometimes just about a kiss.

The Italians make some great films. I too often forget that they seem to take the seriousness of the Germans and the artiness of the French and add their laid back Italian ideals and create some of the best films that I've ever seen. And this one is head and shoulders above the rest.

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